Pay It Forward program will continue in 2012

It is hard to believe that 2012 will mark the fifth year that Bell State Bank & Trust’s employees will give back to the community through a unique project: the opportunity to “Pay It Forward” to those in need. Pay It Forward has become a year-round tradition for our employees, as they carefully consider the many needs in our communities and in our world. To date, we have given away more than $2 million to people in need and to causes we care about. Visit our Pay It Forward website to read more of our stories of giving. It is our hope that they will open your eyes to the many needs in our communities. Here are just a few of our stories of giving.

Helping a Restaurant’s “Day Brightener”

For deposit services representative Amanda Cockrell, Teresa Gutierrez is “always that wonderful smiling face that you look forward to seeing.” Teresa, a hostess at Acapulco Mexican Restaurant in Fargo, brightens the day for Amanda and many of her co-workers.

The Gutierrez family owns and operates the restaurant and, Amanda says, Bell State Bank & Trust employees have established a friendship with Teresa and other staff. “They are just wonderful,” Amanda comments. “They always greet you with a smile, and if you’re a regular and order the same thing all the time, they remember your order.”

Recently, however, Amanda and fellow deposit services rep Alison Lutgen noticed they hadn’t seen Teresa for a while. Their server told them Teresa was in the hospital, awaiting a kidney transplant.

“After he walked away, I looked at Alison and said, ‘This is what we should do for our Pay It Forward,’” Amanda relates.

Teresa is on dialysis three times a week. Once they heard about the Pay It Forward project, a whole bunch of Bell State Bank & Trust employees got on board to help alleviate Teresa’s medical expenses, so she can focus on getting healthy.

All told, Amanda, Alison and other Acapulco “regulars” – Eilene Johnson, Janice Wohlwend, Lori Faulkner, Diana Lyslo, Melanie Dollison, Susan Boreen, Donna Gunderson, Julie Nelson, Toni Huper, Mary Welk, Sheila Emerson, Pat Anvik, Deb Johnson, Vicky Stanko, Lorelee Rude, Kelly Hegney, Barb Merth and Lois Jordheim – gave a whopping $18,000 gift.

“Teresa and her family could not believe it,” Amanda says. “I overheard Teresa telling her husband, Martin: ‘Look at what they have done for us.’”

A Special Day for Veterans

Bell State Bank & Trust deposit operations manager Polly Thorsness and fellow members of the Red River Harness & Saddle Club spent a Saturday in October giving free wagon rides at the Veteran’s Administration (VA) Hospital in Fargo.

The rides were for veterans in the Community Living Center, where veterans can receive care, either temporary or long-term, until they are able to go home.

Special veteran of the day was George Miller, who is “92 years young” and served in World War II. He grew up on a farm with mules and had talked about hay rides. George was a little skeptical at first when he saw the wagon and mules, saying, “Those mules are going to run away”– but, says Polly, “We really didn’t give him a choice. We just loaded him onto the wagon and showed him the mules were well behaved.”

Several other veterans also rode on the wagons, and “we enjoyed talking with them about their service and their lives,” says Polly. “It was a very humbling day to be amongst those who fought for our freedom to be able to go places, attend fun events and not be afraid for our lives. In the busyness of life, we very often take for granted what all of the soldiers have done for us and our livelihood.”

All the veterans who were in on the ride had a wonderful time, and “many of them are still talking about it and sharing stories and reminiscing about the past,” says Tricia Bosak-Bovkoon, recreation therapist at the Community Living Center and event coordinator for the day.

One club member brought her mother, Gladys, a 91-year-old veteran nurse from World War II. Gladys also loves horses and went on both rounds of rides. The second time, she crawled up into the driver’s seat with Polly, and that’s not an easy task. She was a trooper as she talked about her years in the war.

“It was difficult not to cry that day knowing what these men and women went through during their years of service, and also remembering those who are in service for us today,” comments Polly, who says the ride will likely be repeated next year. “What a great experience and wonderful blessing to be able to give others a highlight in their life that they may not have otherwise received.”

A Special Summer Day for Kids

Like many of us, correspondent banker Gene Uher is drawn to the needs of children who grow up in troubled homes, without the advantages we often take for granted.

For his Pay It Forward gift, Gene, who lives in Sioux Falls and works with banks in South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska, chose to help the Sioux Falls Children’s Home fund a special “Summer Fun Day.” Gene is a long-time board member for the home.

Operated by the Children’s Home Society, the Sioux Falls Children’s Home serves children ages 4 to 13, most of them victims of severe abuse or neglect. The home provides residential treatment, with the average stay being 12 to 14 months. Eventually, the goal is for those children to have the opportunity to be in a loving home.

Gene and his wife, Brigitte, donated Gene’s $1,000 Pay It Forward funds, as well as a $500 personal gift, to cover the costs of the day for kids. And a sunny, special day it was, with inflatable games, a splashing water slide, and frozen treats.

“You helped give the kids a very special and fun day,” wrote Children’s Home development director Rick Weber. “There were many comments from the kids about how much they enjoyed everything.” In fact, Gene was touched when the kids sent him a “whole pile” of thank-you notes.

“Everyone on the staff and on the board just has a passion for these kids,” Gene comments. “We want to do what’s right for the kids, especially when so many of them have not always had what’s right. It felt good to do something special for them.”

Aiding a Family Halfway Around the World

A cry for help from family friends caught the attention of Binam Shrestha, a loan servicing support specialist. When Binam became aware of the desperate situation of some family friends, he knew he needed to help. Anand Kumar Rai and his wife, both from Nepal, were visiting their children in Australia when Anand had a massive heart attack and was hospitalized for ten days.

“Since I am originally from Nepal, I could understand this family’s situation,” says Binam. “Anand was only visiting and did not carry Australian insurance. The cost of his medical care was enormous for him and his children. I can imagine my own parents being in a similar situation when visiting me or my brother in Sydney.”

With Anand and his family at risk of losing their home in Nepal to pay the medical bills, Binam says he “knew immediately that my Pay It Forward donation would go toward this cause.” With the help of co-workers Vicki Stanko, Marnett Shea and Subha Gyawali, Binam was able to donate $3,000 to the family; Melissa Rossman, accounting, helped make an international wire transfer to deposit the funds in Sydney.

Binam received a heartfelt thank-you note from Anand and his children and later spoke with Anand’s wife by phone. “She was grateful and nearly in tears with her thanks” Binam says. “She was so amazed that strangers she had never met would do so much for their family half a world away. She sends her blessings for those who donated and for Bell State Bank & Trust.”

For Binam, Pay It Forward shows the bank helps people in need and people it doesn’t know. “I also feel empowered that I can choose my own cause that is close to my heart,” he notes.

Scouts Learn to Be Prepared … and Pay It Forward

For Boy Scouts, the motto is, “Be prepared.” But it’s tough for Scouts to be prepared for camping trips when their tents have rips, broken zippers, and even broken tent poles.

For audit & compliance manager Diane Kaiser, the needs for her son Jordan’s Fargo Boy Scout troop were apparent. Troop leaders had been talking for some time about how badly new tents were needed and how the troop could pay for them.

Diane decided to use her Pay It Forward funds to provide new camping equipment for Troop 276. At the regular troop meeting in February, designated as a “Pay It Forward” meeting, the Scouts watched a portion of the movie Pay It Forward. Diane gave a short presentation on the history of paying it forward before presenting not only her $1,000 Pay It Forward check, but also Pay It Forward wristbands from Bell State Bank & Trust. Diane also wrote a personal check to make up the rest of the cost of the tents.

Finally, the troop leaders created a learning project from Diane’s presentation, asking the boys to come up with three ways in which they could “pay it forward.”

Diane says the troop was very appreciative of the help, as they are a very active group with many community activities as well as fun camping and hiking trips. “With the help of the Pay It Forward program, the troop is now able to spend its funds on activities for the boys,” Diane says.

Unique Lemonade Stand Raises Funds in West Fargo

Bell State Bank & Trust in West Fargo created a unique twist to help kids learn about paying it forward in the community. The bank enlisted the help of local volunteer Harold Larson to construct a lemonade stand on display in front of the bank’s safe deposit box area.

Called the Bell State Bank & Trust LemonPreneur Stand, the stand is available to children of customers and employees during the summer months. Kids fill out an application, reserve the stand and sign a contract; they are encouraged to use some of their proceeds to help an individual, family or organization in need.

Their “starter kit” includes a LemonPreneur t-shirt, lemonade mix, pitcher, cups, napkins, Pay It Forward bracelet and returnable deposit bag.

Location president Todd Zabel’s daughter, Alyssa, and her friend Emily used the stand. With Todd’s Pay It Forward match, they were able to donate $70 to the YWCA. Ag/business lender Joe Watzke’s children, Jack and Ella, and their friend Gavin also used the stand; they are donating approximately $120 (including a match from Joe) to the Minot Red Cross and the Red River Valley Humane Society.

What a great way to teach kids about earning and giving back!

In the new year, we plan to involve the entire community in paying it forward in a unique way. Watch for our “Fans’ Choice Pay It Forward” program on Facebook in January, with details on how you can nominate an individual, family or organization.

Visit our Pay It Forward website to read more of our stories of giving. It is our hope that they will open your eyes to the many needs in our communities.

Home page artwork: “Ghost Tree,” print by regional artist Charles Beck. His art may be seen at Kaddatz Galleries in Fergus Falls,MN.


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